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September 03, 2002 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2002-09-03

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4B - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition


hough the GEO received all of the provisions that they were after durii

hough the GEO received all of the provisions that they were after durir
T~versity, victory did not come until after months of heated bargaining bete
Icontract talks The Daily featured this analysis of the seven issues that
main concerns of the University are budgetary, due to fiscal uncertainties.
from the state legislature, the University is facing its tightest budget in a d
receive written confirmation of verbal promises, increase benefits and improv
The GEO was committed to its demands and the University seemed unmoved

with the Uni-
GEO. During
standstill. The
g commitment
)is ping to
r members.

Vith an uncles
e. Meanw]





GEO, the University and SOLE speak out on the bargaining process. The Daily examines some of the biggest and most contentious issues that were on the table.


- - - - - - a ~ S ~1

The University


GEO Local 3550

As of the 12th week of negotiations
with the Graduate Employees Organi-
zation over a new labor contract, many
graduate students, undergraduates, faculty and
staff have shown interest in the outcome of the
negotiations. As faculty members on the bar-
gaining team, we want our community to
understand some of the core values that govern
our decision-making as we work to come to a
fair agreement.
Graduate student instructors are fundamen-
tally important to us in two ways. First and
foremost, they are students. The opportunity
for GSIs to work closely with both undergradu-
ates and faculty in a teaching environment is a
key ingredient in their educational experience.
The financial support provided to GSIs -
salary, tuition and benefits - helps them to
pay for their graduate education and also is part
of the University's commitment to their aca-
demic success.
Second, GSIs are crucial to the quality of
our teaching enterprise. The employment of
GSIs makes it possible for us to offer smaller
classes, allowing more individual attention and
active learning experiences for undergraduates.
GSIs approach their disciplines with a fresh
perspective and creativity, transmitting their
excitement to the undergraduates they teach.
They are an important link between undergrad-
uates and faculty in the intergenerational learn-
ing model that makes up a great university
such as the University of Michigan.
Because of the importance we place on our
graduate students, we want to arrive at a con-
tract that provides fair compensation for their
work and continues to improve the quality of
their work environment. GEO played a valu-
able role in this process and in bringing signifi-
cant issues to the attention of the University
over the years.
Yet working with a union made up of stu-
dents presents its own unique challenges. GEO
has regular turnover in its leadership and mem-
bers, with new negotiators at the table for each
new three-year contract. GEO leaders prefer to
bargain publicly with an inclusive, democratic
approach that invites large numbers of
observers at each of our bargaining sessions.
This approach, while understandable, is not the
most efficient method of arriving at a swift
conclusion to the bargaining process.
Many of the issues we are working through
involve a significant budget impact for the Uni-
versity. We're proud of the fact that our GSIs
are among the most highly compensated in the
country. They are rightfully well paid because
we expect them to be among the best in their
fields. Six years ago we began to link GSI
salary increases to faculty increases in LSA,
both to ensure reasonable pay increases and to
reflect the linkage that exists between faculty
and GSI instructional efforts. Since then, GSI

increases have kept pace with the faculty and
we have never had to rely upon the minimum
salary increases specified in the contract.
However, we are heading into an extraordi-
narily difficult budget year. Faculty and staff
salary increases are likely to feel the impact, as
are a wide variety of University programs.
Undergraduate students and their parents are
understandably concerned that tuition levels not
increase at an unreasonable pace. We ask that
GEO be responsible about the costs of the con-
tract provisions they are hoping to negotiate,
given the realities of our budget environment.
One of the greatest areas of misunderstand-
ing is the cost of GSIs' tuition that is paid for by
the University. GEO has expressed to us the
notion that tuition expenses are not "real" costs
to the University. On the contrary, tuition
reflects the very real cost of providing instruc-
tion and other academic support and student
services to graduate students. A study in the
Chronicle of Higher Education this week docu-
ments that most universities spend more to edu-
cate students than the cost of tuition reflects.
Some proposals fall outside the scope of
i n g
t h, e y
tread on
the fun-
need of
ments to
h a v e
over the
quality of their academic environment. This is
why, for example, we insist on English lan-
guage proficiency for international students
who want to be GSIs, and why we require
instructional training for GSIs from foreign
countries and for all GSIs at the discretion of
their departments.
In the end, we will not be able to respond to
every proposal submitted by GEO. It is the
responsibility of both parties at the bargaining
table to prioritize their core issues and con-
cerns, and work hard to come to a resolution on
those issues that are the most important. We are
confident that the set of proposals the Universi-
ty has put forward will increase materially the
compensation and quality of working condi-
tions for GSIs.
Associate Prof of Psychology
Prof of Economics
Louis B. NAGEL
Associate Prof of Music
Prof of Industrial and Operations Engineering

Many GSIs are presently doing better
than they were a quarter of a century
ago, thanks to the countless many who
have stuck together since the union was found-
ed. Most of us still live from paycheck to pay-
check, but at least we live. There are some,
however, who cannot participate fully in the
life of either the University or the city of Ann
Parents pay over $800 a month in rent to
family housing and over $800 a month for
childcare, leaving them with less than nothing
to live on. Graduate student librarians earn an
average of 70 percent of what GSIs earn, and
while some of these are allowed to be in the
union, others arbitrarily are not.
Female and minority graduate students have
fewer opportunities to teach than others do.
Some 150 graduate students - known as "low
fraction" GSIs - earn $700 per month or less
without benefits.
Without a safeguard against bottom-line
budgeting, non-LSA, pre-candidate, and out-
of-state graduate students could be shut out of
the LSA GSI hiring pool and lose their only
way to pay
for school.
ate stu-
dents who
' a r e
on the job
have little
_ __ or no
except to
hire a
lawyer with money they do not have. Finally,
international graduate students - many of
whom are fluent in English - are subjected to
an insulting language test that does nothing to
assist or to test their command of the English
This contract year is for all those graduate
students who continue to struggle unfairly.
We ask the question, "What kind of commu-
nity do we want to be?" Do we want to be the
kind of community that: A) punishes families
for trying to make a better life for themselves
by attending graduate school; B) does not
believe in equal pay for equal work; C) cuts
backroom deals for jobs to the exclusion of
women and people of color; D) forbids our
lowest paid citizens from buying into health
care benefits even if they are willing to pay for
them; E) discriminates against those in our
number whose education costs more than oth-
ers; F) allows workplace harassment to contin-
ue with impunity; and G) insults our immigrant
My guess is that the administration would

answer no to each of these questions. And yet
in rejecting our proposals, they have, through
their actions, indicated quite the opposite.
Their position is all the more troubling,
since most of these proposals cost next to noth-
ing. Take, for instance, our proposal on harass-
ment. We seek a definition of workplace
harassment and a special grievance procedure.
Some of our proposals merely ask to put
current practice into writing. For example, the
administration insists that they never imple-
mented bottom-line budgeting (despite ample
evidence to the contrary); that in fact, they are
managing GSI hiring through the "slot system"
in which the best GSIs are hired instead of the
cheapest. GEO supports the slot system; all we
ask is that they guarantee the slot system for
the life of our contract.
This brings me to the subject of undergrad-
uate students, yet another group within our
community whose interests are undercut when
financial costs take precedence over human
The administration has rejected many of
our proposals in the name of undergraduate
However, their refusal to sign a safeguard
against bottom-line budgeting suggests that
they will attempt to implement it once this con-
tract year is over.
In the last contract round, the administration
sought to increase the GSI workload by almost
50 percent in exchange for a raise that would
have brought us closer to a living wage. This
would have made GSIs teach four sections or
about 100 undergraduates each, making it
almost impossible to give our students the indi-
vidual attention they already lack in lectures.
If the administration stonewalls this year,
graduate students will not be the only ones who
don't go to class. Undergraduates won't either.
Bottom-line budgeting is bad for undergrads.
So is the current state of teacher training which
we are attempting to reform.
Undergraduates that I have spoken to are
also appalled by the pace of negotiations on
Though the myth is to the contrary, GEO is
one of the last lines of defense (apart from
undergraduates themselves) of undergraduate
education and it has been the administration
that has more often than not compromised it.
At a highly corporatized research institution
like the University, undergraduate and graduate
students are all in this together, like it or not.
Unless we are prepared to jeopardize both
our community and our education, we should
stick by one another in the coming month until
the administration decides to put us before
their bottom line.
President, GEO

population should
not cross picket
I never had any intention of cross-
ing the Graduate Employees Organi-
zation picket lines on March 11 and
when I showed up at Angell Hall to
see how the walkout was going, I was
disgusted by what I saw: Numerous
undergraduate students crossing the
picket lines. I asked some of my
friends why they were doing so, only
to hear such reasons for their atten-
dance of classes such as "they are
part time workers," "they make
enough money," and "all the GSIs
suck anyway." Of course GSIs are
part time workers. However, they are
highly-educated, integral parts of the
educational community; without
them, the institution for which they
work could not function. Therefore,
unlike obvious examples of part time
workers, such as food service employ-
ees, they are not expendable and
highly valuable, and thus should fight
for the best contract that is possible,
including a pay raise that is above the
rate of inflation, as well as additional
training to make them not "suck" as
Additionally, I believe that a large
part of the undergraduate population
simply does not understand what it
means to cross a picket line. After
hearing what many undergraduates
have had to say regarding unions and
picket lines, it is obvious that most of
my classmates do not realize the ben-
efits brought about by unionization in
this country. I can say with confi-
dence that almost every student has
either a parent or a grandparent who
is or once was in a union and that
union's struggles for better contracts
has led to a more affluent way of life,
including the opportunity to attend
the University.
LSA junior
education should not
have to suffer for
quarreling GEO, 'U'
I am perplexed as to why any under-
graduate students would support the Grad-
uate Employees Organization strike March
11. Why should undergraduates support a
group which, through its "strike," clearly
shows that it does not have the best inter-
ests of students at heart, a group which can
heartlessly deny thousands of tuition pay-
ing students an education which they
On top of the fact that the GEO is forc-
ing undergraduate students to lose a full
day's education, it is also making demands
of the University that will have a direct
negative impact on the affordability and
quality of the undergraduate education in
the future. They are demanding, among
other things, increased pay and subsidized
services including child care. Since the
University already has a strapped budget,
these changes will clearly result in tuition
hikes in the near future. They also want to
change the University policy on English
Language Proficiency so that graduate stu-
dents who clearly do not have the language
proficiency necessary to teach can receive
the financial benefits of working as gradu-

ate student instructors.
GSIs have a difficult job and they may
have a legitimate claim to better working
conditions. However, undergraduates
should not be forced to sacrifice their
tuition and their education because the
GEO and the University cannot get along.
LSA senior

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